2019 Veteran of the Year

Ruben Valencia

Childhood friends Ruben Valencia and Raul Guerra served honorably during the Vietnam conflict in 1966 and 1967. Having grown up in Montebello and after graduating from Montebello High School, Ruben was drafted into the Marine Corps, and Raul joined the U.S. Navy.

On October 8, 1967, Raul volunteered to take part in a reconnaissance flight over Da Nang; the flight was shot down killing all five service members aboard. Because of the harsh terrain, the U.S. military was unable to locate the crash site or remains of the fallen heroes.

Ruben Valencia returned home to the United States, after serving 11 months in Vietnam and being injured by an explosive device in combat. Settling in Pico Rivera after the war, Ruben found it hard to even discuss the tragic loss of his friend Raul whom he had known since the 5th grade.

It wasn’t until 2007 that he received the news that Raul’s remains had been located in Vietnam, starting Ruben’s 12-year quest to bring him home. The military needed DNA evidence and next of kin information to release Raul’s remains, but both of these would prove difficult to obtain. Ruben formed the “Bring Raul Guerra Home Committee”, a dedicated group of family and friends led by Ruben to track down distant relatives who could assist in this quest. In 2016, researchers at Brigham Young University made a breakthrough, and were able to trace Raul’s roots to Mexico, where Ruben was later able to connect with Raul’s distant relatives.

With the family’s permission, an agreement was brokered that would allow Ruben to take custody of Raul’s remains, finally bringing his fallen friend home. On April 25, 2019, Petty Officer Guerra was interred at Rose Hills Cemetery with full honors; his funeral attended by hundreds including his beloved childhood friend Ruben.

For his dedication to his friend, his country, and his community, I am proud to recognize Ruben Valencia of Pico Rivera as the 2019 Veteran of the Year.